Soon after their trip to Sotherton, a letter arrives from Sir Thomas in Antigua, informing them that he will return in November since he has finished his business in the West Indies. Neither Maria nor Julia is happy about this update, since he is so strict. Maria is especially displeased because her father’s return means that she will finally be married to Mr. Rushworth, an event she has been dreading. She consoles herself by imagining that he will likely not arrive in early November, but rather in the middle of the month, giving her three more months of freedom.
Austen uses letters to provide essential information about Sir Thomas, who, in Antigua, is far away from Mansfield Park. (It’s also worth noting that his “business” in Antigua most likely involves slaves, a disturbing possibility that is never explicitly stated and that would certainly undercut the morality of this otherwise mostly positive character.) The fact that his daughters are unenthusiastic about his return also makes them look unloving and displays their lack of morals. Maria’s dread at her impending marriage to Mr. Rushworth recalls her earlier comment about feeling trapped by the iron gate.
Mary, Edmund, and Fanny engage in a long discussion of Edmund’s choice to be a clergyman, after Mary suggests that Edmund chose the profession so his father would continue providing him with an income. Fanny and Edmund push back on this, and try to relieve Mary of her cynical views of the clergy, but to no avail.
Once again, Mary, unable to understand Edmund’s commitment to morality, frames Edmund’s choice to become a clergyman as a financial necessity due to his lack of inheritance.
Maria and Julia then invite Mary to play instruments with them, and so she leaves Edmund and Fanny. As she walks away, Edmund articulates lots of admiring thoughts about Mary’s good nature to Fanny. Fanny agrees, and is happy that Edmund continues to stand with her by the window.
When Edmund and Fanny are alone, Edmund confides in Fanny that he admires Mary, showing his closeness to Fanny and trust in her. Fanny’s happiness in his company shows her deep love for him.
Fanny looks out the window, and says to Edmund that she thinks people would be happier and better if they spent more time contemplating nature. As they gaze at the stars, Edmund says they should really be out on the lawn for a better view. Fanny says she would like to go. To Fanny’s sadness, Edmund then walks over to listen to the singers, and asks them to play again. This leaves Fanny alone at the window until Mrs. Norris scolds her away, warning her that she’ll catch a cold.
Fanny, perhaps tired of hearing Edmund praise another woman, turns the conversation towards nature, showing her connection to the countryside and Mansfield Park. When Edmund chooses to listen to the music instead of going with Fanny to the lawn, his clear preference for Mary upsets Fanny.